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Understanding The Link Between Sleep and Diabetes

Understanding The Link Between Sleep And Diabetes

Sleep deprivation is a risk factor of various health conditions such as obesity, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, and heart disease.  What you may not know is that there is also a link between diabetes and sleep deprivation.

It may come as a surprise to many people who take sleep for granted or see it as something to do when the body can no longer stay awake.

However, the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine recommends at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every single night to maintain good health.

Understanding the relationship between diabetes and sleep can be useful in helping both pre-diabetics and people with type 2 diabetes.

The Importance of Sleeping

Sleeping is a natural part of the life cycle, and adults are generally encouraged to have at least 6-9 hours of it.  Humans typically go to sleep when they can no longer bear to stay awake.  They also don’t determine what time they wake, unless they set an alarm clock or their sleep is otherwise interrupted.  The reason for this is the sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the natural body clock also called the circadian clock.

Scientists still do not fully understand the sleep-wake cycle, how it affects human existence or the connection between diabetes and sleep.  Regardless of this, sleeping is a crucial part of keeping your metabolism and immune system running efficiently and maintaining your health.

What Happens During Sleep?

The quality of sleep is also important.

The longer you stay asleep, the better the opportunity for the body to carry out cell and tissue repairs and renewal.  This is also the time it regulates hormones such as cortisol and insulin in the bloodstream.

Getting uninterrupted sleep at night helps you to wake feeling rejuvenated.  You are likely to be more energized and able to carry out daily activities without quickly becoming tired.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Lack of sleep can affect you physically, psychologically, mentally, and emotionally.

Here are some common signs of persistent loss of sleep:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Lethargy
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Persistent yawning
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Chronic stress
  • Poor memory
  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Lack of concentration or brain fog

Developing Diabetes Due to Lack of Sleep

Poor sleep or lack of sleep can compromise the body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin and blood glucose.  Insulin ensures that glucose or blood sugar is not too high to cause hyperglycemia or not too low to result in hypoglycemia.  When the body is consistently unable to regulate insulin, it results in a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

People with type 2 diabetes cannot efficiently process blood glucose.  This happens mainly due to the body’s inability to make insulin fast enough to keep up with the demands of lowering the abnormal levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

To curb this inefficiency, some diabetics are required to take synthetic insulin to boost insulin levels in the body.

Glucose buildup also occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin.  Insulin resistance is when the cells in the body lose their ability to effectively use insulin.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive hunger
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness, weakness, or fatigue
  • Slow-healing cuts or sores

What Happens When the Sleep-Wake Cycle is Disrupted?

Scientists believe that the body produces and releases insulin at a certain time during the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle which is regulated by the circadian clock.  The circadian rhythms can get disrupted or out of sync due to inconsistent, irregular, or lack of sleep or sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

When this happens, the natural patterns of insulin production and usage also become out of sync.  Incidentally, people with type 2 diabetes are likely to experience sleep disruptions or develop sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea are troubled by sleep deprivation because their sleep is interrupted several times during the night.

Sleep Deprivation Can Interfere With Diabetes Management

Loss of sleep can affect diabetes management in those with type 2 diabetes.  Diabetics tend to experience frequent urination at nights and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Loss of sleep results from having to wake to go to the bathroom several times

This has implications for keeping blood sugar levels under control.  For example, not getting quality sleep may lead to marked fluctuations of blood sugar levels.

When blood sugar is high, the body is unable to effectively control your appetite and sometimes lead to extreme hunger or thirst and weight gain.

Studies also found that lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance.

Managing Diabetes With Sleep

Not only is lack of sleep linked to diabetes, it can also affect the quality of life of those with type 2 diabetes.  As such, incorporating quality sleep in your diabetes management plan may help maintain your health and overall well-being.

Here are 5 lifestyle changes that may help to improve your sleep, boost your immune system, and keep diabetes in check:

Sleep on a regular schedule:  Having a regular sleep schedule helps regulate the circadian clock and in turn allows the body to go back to producing and using insulin as it should.

Try to go to bed around the same time each night, preferably by 10 pm.  Studies show that regenerative sleep occurs mostly between 10pm and 2am.

Exercise:  The health benefits of exercise are numerous.  Staying active or engaging in regular exercise is a good way to rid the body of toxins, lower stress levels, boost metabolism, and manage weight.  It also helps relieve tension so you can relax and have a good night’s rest.

Avoid Caffeine:  Caffeine is a stimulant.  Drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soda, or green tea in the evening can keep you up way past your bedtime.  The stimulant effect of coffee can take about 3-4 hours to wear off.

If you don’t want to stop drinking coffee, you can opt to have your last cup of Joe by 3pm.

Unwind before bedtime:  Relaxing an hour or two before bedtime helps to slow down the brain and prepare your body for sleep.  Reading, listening to soft music, or meditating are great ways to unwind.  If you like, you can also do deep breathing exercises or sip on some chamomile tea.

Turn the lights down or off:  Creating an ambiance that is conducive to sleeping may be a good way to get quality sleep.  Unless you cannot sleep without a night light or dimmed light, keep the room as dark and cool as possible.

A comfortable mattress, fluffed pillows, bedding made from cool materials, and lights off can make good for getting the shut-eye you need.

Bringing it All Together

Long-term lack of sleep or chronic sleep deprivation eventually takes a toll on the body and immune system.

This places pre-diabetics at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Patients with the disease are also affected by sleep problems and diabetes symptoms which can make it difficult to get the quality sleep they need.

With these lifestyle changes, you may be able to improve your sleep, prevent diabetes or reduce diabetes symptoms, and enjoy a better quality of life.

You can always speak with your doctor if you continue to be sleep deprived.


What started out as a self-discovering journey into minimizing the side effects of the standard type 2 diabetic treatment, has turned into a mission to share my findings with as many people as possible. There are several ways to take care of ourselves. Knowledge is power!

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